On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connally, their wives and two Secret Service agents boarded an open-topped limousine for a motorcade ride through Dallas. As enthusiastic crowds cheered them on, Connally’s wife turned to Kennedy and said, “Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you.” Just seconds later, shots rang out from what was later determined to be the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building. The gunfire fatally wounded JFK, sending a nation into mourning and triggering countless conspiracy theories. Yet he was not the only victim that day. Fifty years later, take a look at the politician, the policeman and the car salesman who were caught in the line of fire.
1. The Politician
Born on a farm, John Connally earned both an undergraduate and law degree from the University of Texas prior to serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He got his political start as a legislative assistant to then-Representative Lyndon B. Johnson and later managed a number of LBJ’s campaigns, including his successful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1948. Connally could “leave more dead bodies in the field with less remorse than any politician I ever knew,” LBJ reportedly once said of his protege. Throughout most of the Eisenhower administration, Connally served as legal counsel to a wealthy oil magnate. He then worked for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket during the 1960 presidential campaign and became secretary of the Navy after their election. Less than a year later, he resigned in order to run for governor of Texas, which he won with 54 percent of the vote.
On November 21, 1963, 10 months after taking office, Connally accompanied Kennedy to events in San Antonio and Houston. They then flew to Fort Worth for a next-day breakfast gathering prior to boarding the plane yet again for a short trip to Dallas. Their ill-fated motorcade—which included the presidential limo, two cars filled with Secret Service agents and another car with Vice President Johnson, his wife and a senator—got its start shortly before noon. “We’d had tremendously enthusiastic, warm crowds,” Connally said later. “Everyone was in extremely good spirits.” The mood changed drastically around 12:30 p.m., however, when shots rang out in Dealey Plaza. As Connolly turned to look back at the president one of the bullets struck him. “My God, they are going to kill us all,” he yelled. Several months afterward, he explained that it “felt as if someone had just hit me in the back, a sharp blow with a doubled-up fist. […] It more or less knocked me over, at least enough to where I looked down. And of course I was covered with blood, and frankly thought that I had been fatally hit.”
Before losing consciousness, Connally recalled seeing a chunk of Kennedy’s brain fall onto his trousers. His wife, Nellie, pulled him onto her lap and whispered reassurances as the limo sped toward Parkland Memorial Hospital a few miles away. JFK was soon pronounced dead. Connally, meanwhile, underwent surgery for wounds to his back, chest, wrist and thigh, and ended up making a full recovery. He later speculated that the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, might have been aiming for both him and Kennedy. (As Navy Secretary, Connally had brushed off Oswald’s request to upgrade his undesirable discharge from the Marines.) Connally disagreed with the Warren Commission’s much parodied, so-called “magic bullet theory,” which held that one of the bullets had pierced Kennedy’s neck before entering Connally’s back, exiting his chest below the right nipple, passing through his right wrist and puncturing his left thigh. Nonetheless, he pooh-poohed conspiracy theorists, believing that Oswald was the lone assassin, that the Warren Commission did an “outstanding job under very difficult circumstances” and that further investigation was neither “warranted, justified or desirable.”
Following JFK’s assassination, Connally handily won two more terms as governor of Texas. He then joined the Nixon administration, switching his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican three months after LBJ’s death. In the midst of the Watergate scandal, Connally faced charges that he took a bribe in exchange for helping to win milk price support increases. A jury found him not guilty. He ran for president in 1980, but never gained much traction against Ronald Reagan in the Republican primaries. Though once quite wealthy, Connally filed for bankruptcy protection in 1987, emerging within a year. He died in June 1993 due to complications from pulmonary fibrosis.
2. The Policeman
A paratrooper during World War II, J.D. Tippit found work for the Dearborn Stove Co. and Sears Roebuck & Co. in Dallas following his return to civilian life. Tippit, who was born and raised in rural East Texas, also briefly tried his hand at farming. In 1952 he joined the Dallas Police Department, where he remained for the next 11 years. One day on the job, a man involved in a domestic dispute smashed him in the stomach and right kneecap with an ice pick. Other incidents included an attack by a dog that had earlier attacked a child, and a near shooting in 1956, when Tippit and his partner attempted to apprehend a drunk whom Tippit believed matched the description of man wanted in Colorado. The man drew a gun on Tippit, but when his weapon failed to fire, Tippit and his partner drew their own guns, killing the assailant. The two officers were awarded an order of merit for their actions.
For Tippit, November 22, 1963, started off innocuously, with a trip to his sister’s house and coffee with a fellow officer. In a break from his normal routine, he ate lunch—fried potatoes and a tuna sandwich—at home with his wife. He then went back on duty, and, following JFK’s assassination, was sent to patrol the Oak Cliff neighborhood. A witness had told police he saw a thin man in his 30s, around 5 feet, 10 inches tall, fire a rifle at Kennedy from the sixth-floor corner window of the Texas School Book Depository Building. At around 1:15 p.m., Tippit spotted Oswald, who resembled that description. According to the Warren Commission, the two exchanged words through the passenger window of Tippet’s car. Tippet then got out of the car, only to have Oswald whip out a revolver and shoot him multiple times, killing him instantly. “I just couldn’t picture how we were going to live without him,” Tippet’s 85-year-old widow told the Associated Press a few weeks ago. “I had three children that needed their dad, but he wasn’t there anymore.” In the wake of the officer’s murder, donations for his family poured in from around the country. In all, more than $4 million (in today’s money) was raised, including a check from Abraham Zapruder, who shot the famous footage of President Kennedy’s assassination and donated a portion of the proceeds he made when he sold the film to Life magazine.
To honor Tippit, some members of the Dallas Police Department are wearing commemorative badges this month inscribed with his name, badge number and date of death.
3. The car salesman
Dallas car salesman James Tague, then 27, was late to a lunch date with his future wife on November 22, 1963, when he ran into a traffic jam outside Dealey Plaza. Tague, who was only vaguely aware of the president’s visit, got out of his vehicle to find out what was going on. Just then, he heard a loud bang and felt something slam into his right cheek. A bullet had apparently hit the curb next to him and sent debris flying into his face. Tague’s cheek wound was minor, but demonstrated that at least one of the shots meant for Kennedy must have missed its target. As Tague ducked behind a concrete abutment, he saw the presidential limo racing toward the hospital, and only realized he had been wounded after he was approached by a Dallas police officer on the scene.
When Tague testified before the Warren Commission the following year, he acknowledged that all of the shots could have come from the Texas School Book Depository Building. And he reportedly believed that Oswald likely acted alone. Later on, however, Tague changed his tune. He became obsessed with conspiracy theories and now runs an eBay store dedicated to JFK’s assassination. Tague has also authored two books on the subject. The latest, published last month, alleges that LBJ and his associates planned the killing with the help of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.